The Dreyfus Case is still relevant after 125 years

Dreyfus, A Family Affair, 1789-1945 by Michael Burns, Harper Collins, 1991.

More than two thousand books and articles have been written about the infamous court martial of French Jew Captain Alfred Dreyfus in 1894. While most histories focus on the case itself, Michael Burns provides a broader view, chronicling the emergence of the Dreyfus family as wealthy cotton manufacturers in Alsace, examining the case in great detail, and then following up on the roles the Dreyfus family and his supporters played in both world wars.

The Dreyfus family story has as much relevance today as it did at the turn of the century––not just in France where anti-Semitism has never gone away and has resurfaced recently in deadly fashion, not just in Europe––ditto its presence, but in the United States as well.

For those who forgot the short mention of the Dreyfus affair in their European History class, it is important to recall that at a young age Alfred Dreyfus became dedicated to France and to the French military, and he never waivered in that dedication. Despite his loyalty, Dreyfus was convicted of spying for France’s bitter enemy Germany, which had humiliated France in 1870 and taken part of Alsace as its reward.

The Dreyfus case coincided with the growing antagonism to Jews in France, as a result of their increasing integration into mainstream French society in general and in the ranks of the French military in particular. The plot, hatched by clerical and nationalist elements in the military and supported by vocal anti-Semites, led to Dreyfus spending five years on Devil’s Island off the coast of French Guiana. Dreyfus endured incredible deprivation, which Burns details, and barely survived. Yet, as a result of a campaign led by his brother Mathieu and the strength he gained from the support of his wife Lucie, Dreyfus survived to face a second court martial. Although he was convicted a second time, as the facts of his innocence had begun to emerge, he was eventually pardoned and his military rank was restored.

Jews world-wide know of the Dreyfus case because a Hungarian journalist who covered the initial trail cited it as an influence in his decision to join the nascent Zionist movement. Theodore Herzl (1860-1904) was apparently influenced not just by the case itself but also by the massive public outcry he witnessed against Dreyfus and against French Jews. Chants of “Death to Jews,” he wrote, were heard throughout the country.

The irony of the Dreyfus case was that the Dreyfusards––those who believed in Dreyfus innocence, downplayed the anti-Semitic motivation of his framers. The Dreyfus family had taken advantage of France’s emancipation of the Jews to become wealthy and to take advantage of the open doors to French society. Along the way, their Judaism was reduced to the equivalent of a regional family affiliation. At family funerals even Kaddish, the prayer cited for the dead, had to be recited in French.

The consequences of the Dreyfus’ family’s unwavering devotion to France was that several young men of the next generation including Mathieu’s son Emile, went to their deaths fighting for France in the first world war, and Alfred, who never fully recovered his health, insisted in returning to his post and put his life in danger defending Paris.

Despite the contributions of the Dreyfus family to that war, they were again victimized by French anti-Semite allies of the Nazis who helped send tens of thousands of French Jews, including those with medals for valor in the First World War, to Auschwitz.

Burns does not offer conclusions based on his thorough research, nor should he. That’s not the historian’s job. Conclusions based on the Dreyfus case are nevertheless the domain of reviewers.

In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the lesson of the Dreyfus case is that the promise of the French Revolution for Jews––emancipation and unrestricted opportunity––was never fulfilled. Yes, there were periods where Jews prospered and made inroads, but always at the expense of their commitment to Judaism, and always in the face of an undercurrent of resentment and hostility from those who needed a scapegoat for failures personal and national. Again and again, the undercurrent of resentment came to the surface whenever conditions justified the need for someone to blame.

Earlier I suggested the Dreyfus case offers lessons for Jews in the United States as well as in Europe. Recent history backs me up. When college students are bombarded by professors with accusations against Israel, when they are afraid to wear a Jewish star or kippah, and when members of Congress blame the Jewish Lobby (with a capital L) for buying their colleagues’ votes, events like the murders in Pittsburgh become all too likely.

Herzl’s vision came none too soon. Unfortunately, however, millions of Jews who might have benefitted were brutally murdered in the Holocaust or died as soldiers fighting the Nazi menace. What’s different today is that the state of Israel exists and at the moment one can be a practicing Jew and an American. Who knows whether both will last.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to the (Albany) Times Union re: the Paris Accord

The following letter appeared (slightly edited) in the Albany Times Union Thursday, June 15.

The Times Union ignores reality in its response to President Trump’s withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord (“Mr. Trump Defies Reality,” 6/2/2017).

Instead of accepting the president’s rationale as stated in his press conference, the TU makes up its own motive: climate denial. Instead of trying to refute the president’s arguments that the Paris Accord would be harmful to the American economy costing us tens of thousands of jobs and increasing energy costs to the average householder by thousands of dollars annually, the TU is worried that our withdrawal will hurt our image and “good name,” lead scientists to leave the country, and harm our economic competitiveness.

The TU ignores the reality that the U.S. is the world leader in environmental stewardship and that our businesses are committed to the best practices to reduce pollution and conserve energy and resources.

The President’s withdrawing from Paris was not accompanied by a plan to change any of that. To the contrary. What led Mr. Trump to withdraw was that Paris would be bad for the U.S. Not only does it fail to accomplish the goal of reducing green-house gases significantly but it allows polluters like China and India to keep polluting while forcing the U.S. to pay.

Like NATO, where the member nations assume the U.S.––like Daddy Warbucks––is ready to finance their every request, Paris was written on the assumption that the U.S. needs to be punished for being the world’s most prosperous and powerful nation. The reality is it’s time for the rest of the world to step up to the plate and show us their commitment to the environment. We’re already doing our share.

Two Must Reads to Understand International Politics in a Trump Presidency

People spending their limited energy trying to reverse the election results or demonize Donald Trump in hopes he will fail and be impeached are missing a huge opportunity to understand what lies ahead of the U.S. on the world stage.

Two brilliant articles provide insightful analysis of the implications of Trump’s victory for those with the ability to remain dispassionate and advance their personal comprehension of where things stand internationally and what needs to be done.

Start with Ruthie Blum’s “Why Abbas does not emulate Sadat,” which can be found at http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=17707&r=1.

The title doesn’t do justice to the column which reviews past peace negotiations and explains why any hope that the leader of the “Palestinians” will negotiate a peace deal with Israel is a pipe dream.

Next read the lengthy, but brilliant analysis of the current world order based on Henry Kissinger’s recent book (World Order, 2014) and his own reading of U.S. history by Niall Ferguson, entitled “Donald Trump’s New World Order,” which can be found here: http://www.the-american-interest.com/2016/11/21/donald-trumps-new-world-order/.

Ferguson lays out a potential path for Donald Trump’s administration to re-balance the world order reversing the disastrous policies of Barack Obama and taking a Teddy Roosevelt-like approach, based on existing realities and actual power alignments rather than wishful interpretations.

 

You don’t have to agree with every point made by Blum or Ferguson to come away with a greater understanding of where things stand in the world and the positions a Trump administration might take to bring restore America’s role as the number one superpower on the world stage.

How do we explain Brussels?

A very nice person, who by profession is a psychiatrist, wrote in a directory listing that she understands human nature. Really? Then how do you explain Brussels and Paris and San Bernidino and Charleston and I could go on and on?

To me human nature is not comprehensible. It might be to an alien species, but for someone to claim he understands himself, much less the entire species . . . well, you might as well ask that person how many fish there are in the ocean. The exact number please.

That said, we can offer theories about behavior and I have a one about Brussels. You’ve read this far so you might as well stick around for the punch line.

Why would people kill innocent people in such a blood thirsty, or dare I say inhuman, manner? To me the problem is tolerance.

Tolerance is not natural. It’s a behavior that has to be taught. The natural tendency of children is to grab what they think is theres, not to share. Some people think tolerance is respect. That’s not true. Respect may require an aspect of tolerance, but it encompasses a lot more.

Europe after World War II thought they could prevent future wars and holocausts by being tolerant. As a result, when African and Arab Muslims started coming into Europe in large numbers instead of asking them to assimilate––to learn the language and to accept Europe’s rules and values, Europeans felt the need to be tolerant. It’s okay for you to treat your women like slaves they said; it’s okay for you to cheat and steal; it’s okay for you to form gangs and harass people on the street. It’s not your fault psychiatrists and others told the newcomers. It’s our fault.

So crimes were not prosecuted, mistreatment of children and women was ignored, and the response of all too many of these invaders was ANGER. Why? Because tolerance is very close to disrespect, to avoidance and to please don’t bother me. When a person or group are ignored, they become angry; when they are treated like children, they become even angrier and when they are appeased, their anger turns outward.

The appeasers of the Islamic ideology that preaches death to infidels are to blame for today’s situation. Western societies have put their collective heads in a guillitine of guilt for our accomplishes and successes. We’ve said please chop off our heads, and angry young men have complied.

I’m not saying we should respond to violence with violence. I’m saying lets enforce our existing laws; and if there are not enough laws to prosecute people for marrying off children at age 12 or stoning women because they went outside without a hajib, then pass new laws.

And Europe needs to do something about mosques and Islamic schools that teach hate. I’d require all children to attend public schools at least through age 14. Religious schooling can be done after regular school hours, and that includes Jewish schools. By being tolerant, we allow hate mongers to indoctrinate children to commit acts of violence against us. It has to stop.

Europe also needs to go back to requiring people to produce identification in order to travel from country to country. It needs to fund greater resources for anti-terrorism operations. It needs to violate what some people think is their privacy. They’re wrong. Privacy does not permit you to build bombs in your kitchen or even download diagrams to do so off the Web.

And the U.S. needs to do these things as well because the next Brussels could take place on the D.C. Metro or a NYC airport or a farmers’ market in downtown Chicago. And please people take those tolerance stickers off your cars. Treating people with respect is not being tolerant. In many cases, it’s just the opposite.